Valparaiso – or ‘Valpo‘ as locals affectionately call it – was definitely on my list so when I was surprised by the news that we had a long weekend, I immediately booked a bus ticket. I remember from a holiday in Peru how easy and relatively cheap one can travel there so I was happy to find it is very similar here.
First and foremost I was extremely lucky with the weather. I can imagine that if it is raining, extremely windy or just downright cold, a weekend like that is less fun. Officially, it is winter time here now but you would not have thought so last weekend. And the blue skies turned out to be the ideal background to take pictures of very colourful and charming Valparaiso. I have a natural aversion to the word picturesque, but when it comes to a town like Valparaiso, the word was made to describe it.
A co-worker had given me some pointers and gosh was I grateful once I got there with those extremely detailed and truthful tips and tricks. Not that I could act as though I belonged, with the sunglasses, big camera and limited Spanish I was not kidding anyone. Much to my surprise, I did not get lost though. Not that the bobbled streets, lack of urban plan and small passeos didn’t lend themselves perfectly to this purpose, but the city centre was overseeable in size and I always ended up where I wanted to be. The graffiti on all the walls, the different colours on ever wall or step, also provided me with a pleasant distraction and wondering aimlessly would not have been a waste of time. Some walls were true art. I guess graffiti in general sparks as many gasps of wonder as it does condemnations, a bit like tattoos. And when I think of a graffiti in the sense of a quick offensive word sprayed on the side of a train or a bridge, yes I must agree, but not in Valparaiso.
Based on my co-worker’s advice, I immediately headed for the cemetery. When he said it, I did not even think twice but at the moment that I was standing at the closed gate, I all of sudden wondered if I was allowed in at all. Let alone with a big camera, clearly not there to honour long lost relatives.. But it was absolutely fine and in I went. The guard slept and the streetdogs only briefly looked up, to then decide they were not interested and put their head down again.
The view was indeed wonderful, but in combination with the eerie and peaceful atmospehere of the white thumbstones and family chappels, it was perfectly amazing. I could not help but take pictures. And how great is it that this particular spot was reserved for the dead? As if in an last gesture the living wanted to give those long lost souls a view for eternity. I could not help but feel calm. I have no clue how much time I spent there.
The next day, I made the effort to take another (short) bus-ride to visit Pablo Neruda’s house. For someone that studied literature, it only made sense? The house still had much more furniture and trinkets in it than I had expected, and therefore it was not that hard to imagine the Great Poet sitting there at his workdesk, writing award winning poems. And probably having a good oldfashioned drinking fest with friends afterwards. The house itself was sort of cool: big rooms and small winding steps, superb views. The house was a prime example of art nouveau and it once again stressed the mix of architecture and styles that Valparaiso has to offer: old European charm, mixed with bohemian house and winding passages in between.
Not coincidentally, I stayed in a Belgian B&B/cafe: Viavia. (Also art nouveau, and thus big rooms.) I did not have my heart set on that, I am all for trying local things, but there happens to be a Viavia in Heverlee, and one in Arusha (or at least there used to be one under the Joker-flag) and it felt only right to stay at this one. Besides, the team that runs it is 99% Chilean so what better place to atch the Belgian football game at lunchtime and have my Pisco Sour in the evening? Not that I lasted long in the evenings. In Valparaiso, I noticed how extremely tired I am lately. With every single thing being new to me, and the need to pay attention to practically everything I do and see, and having all my senses in an alert state all the time, I am exhausted. At work, in the supermarket, in the street.. I am taking in so much information, I sometimes feel my brain might temporarily shut down for a while. On top of that it has been cold (the last winter I experienced must have been 2009), and I am walking a lot. So the weekend was also a good opportunity to catch up on some sleep.
Next time, I will come here with the girls. They will love it.
(N.B. Will post pictures in a separate post)